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July 29, 2005

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Volume 33
Issue 30

 
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Standing room only crowd says, 'Keep Pride on Capitol Hill'
Standing room only crowd says, 'Keep Pride on Capitol Hill'
Community speakers demand public vote Committee pledges second community feedback forum

by Matt Nagle - SGN Managing Editor and Robert Raketty SGN Staff Writer

[Editor's note: Last week the SGN ran this report on the front page, but it was not printed in its entirety. Following is the full story]

A standing room only crowd of about 75 people filled the large conference room at Lifelong AIDS Alliance on Sunday, July 17, eager to address the Seattle Pride Committee Board of Directors about its plans to move Seattle's Pride march and rally to Seattle Center next year. The assembly was diverse in its makeup: business owners and managers, community activists, longtime Puget Sound residents from Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle to Tukwila and Renton, former Seattle Pride Committee members and former Freedom Day Committee members, Transgendered, Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Black, Caucasian, Asian, Native American, men and women all came to be heard on this controversial and often emotional issue. This meeting marked the first time that the Seattle Pride Committee has sent out an open invitation to the community specifically to get input on the SPC board's intention to move Pride off the Hill, and folks had plenty to say.

There were few at the meeting who favored the move, and they were far less resolute than those wanting to keep Pride on the Hill. For two hours, speaker after speaker spoke passionately to the six SPC board members, urging them to not go through with the move. Carl Medeiros, owner of Panache on Broadway, walked up to the committee's table and presented them with a stack of petitions containing over 8,000 signatures to keep Pride on Capitol Hill.

Efforts need to be put into making the event bigger, the speakers said, but Seattle's Pride parade also needs to be glammed up, made brighter and more fun with more impressive floats and fewer gaps along the parade route. A deliberate and visible political punch is critical as well to address issues like Gay marriage and the need to pass a statewide Gay civil rights bill. Others pointed out that there were no Gay Pride flags on Broadway again this year, a sign that the current Pride Committee needs some basic tuning up as Seattle's commemoration is sorely lacking when the Pride flags along Broadway don't fly. Another stated that accommodations for the disabled are very poor at the march and rally, something that needs immediate attention this year. And others made note that Cal Anderson Park will be opening in September, offering a whole new, rolling green vista next summer in which to hold new Pride festivities.

As the meeting came to a close, the committee was ready to adjourn but the crowd pressed them to stay and address their concerns. SPC President Frank Leonzal told the audience that the committee's next step will be to take what they heard from the speakers and "discuss and define a direction to go" on whether or not to pursue the move.

Speaker Su Docekal, representing Seattle Radical Women, stood up and, with an enthusiastic crowd backing her, asked the committee if it would hold an open public vote on the matter. She asked for a "yes" or "no" answer but the committee remained noncommittal. "We'll certainly consider it," replied SPC Marketing Director Dale Kershner. He did say, however, that a second public forum would be held. "There will be another opportunity for the community to be heard before a final decision is made," Kershner told the crowd.



After the meeting, Docekal, a seasoned grassroots activist who volunteered for over 10 years on the Freedom Day Committee (prior to its name change to Seattle Pride Committee), was dubious as to whether the committee would hold a public vote. She told the SGN, "It was good that they held a community meeting, but the problem is that they did not leave the decision up to the community. There is a history of the Gay Pride marches to have community meetings where everyone gets a vote when a major change or issue is being discussed," she said.

"They did not agree at tonight's meeting that they would put it up for a vote. They said they would consider it. So, I am waiting to see if they will do that. Ultimately, the community is the one that is going to make the event happen or not. If they really want to speak to the community and represent us, they should put it to a community-wide vote."

Apparently the committee was impacted by Sunday's testimony. According to an internal SPC email obtained by the SGN this week, Secretary Eric Albert-Gauthier proposed to the committee on Wednesday that a second public meeting to receive community feedback be held on August 21, followed by the public vote. "I move that the SPC hold another community meeting where we have both sides present and discuss the pros and cons of the move. After all discussions take place, have a community vote (including us). I move that this take place at the General Community meeting August 21."

SPC President Frank Leonzal has seconded the motion, according to this email, but SPC Marketing Director Dale Kershner has voted no to holding a public vote, stating that he feels holding such a vote "requires more discussion" among the SPC board.

In an email this week, Leonzal encouraged community members to not wait until the August 21 meeting but rather, folks should attend the SPC's next board meeting, August 7, alluding to the possibility of some final decision being made then. "The Seattle Pride Committee is not in full agreement on the proposed move for '06. In fact, some members apparently do not want to even consider the town hall meeting and public vote on where the event should be held. I am concerned that if there is not enough public presence and media at our next meeting, a board meeting on August 7, something may occur that none of us really want."

Albert-Gauthier wrote: "&[T]here is a resounding sentiment from the community that they do not want Pride moved to Seattle Center. We are a community-based organization, and we need to do what the community wants. I feel that the move to Seattle Center will split the LGBT community. This is not the time to do that. With all that is at stake for the LGBT community, it is time to band together and work together as the beautiful community that we are. We should work together to make something that is great even better."

Kershner told the audience that if the community were more involved on the Seattle Pride Committee it could have more of a hand in steering the direction of the committee. "We as a committee don't want to take over the event. We want people to come forward and help make a great Pride Week or Pride Month. We can only ask you to come to the meetings," he said. A few speakers Sunday also admonished Seattle's GLBT population for not being more involved in planning our city's yearly Pride events. "It took a 2x4 to get so many people out for this meeting tonight," said speaker Carl from West Seattle.

Kershner told the Seattle Gay News after the meeting, "It is difficult to attack a volunteer committee for the things that they do. Once again, people are holding us to things that - if they had come to us months ago - they would have been able to have input on and direct things in the direction they are now intending to do.

"The [Lifelong AIDS Alliance] parking lot tonight was completely empty. Everybody who was here was from Capitol Hill. That is why when they talk about this being a representative meeting that is not necessarily the case. The mission of the SPC is to represent the entire Puget Sound as far as the Queer community. I don't know that was necessarily what happened tonight."

Several people in attendance Sunday offered to get involved or to become members of the SPC board. However, Kershner told the SGN that he has heard it all before and that the "proof will be in the pudding."

Leonzal told the crowd that "[P]eople are afraid of change& [a]nd I understand that business owners might be concerned, but the community is far beyond Capitol Hill now&." He said that although the SPC had already voted to make the move, he would have "an open mind to hear what people had to say."



The Pride Committee had stated in a press release last week announcing the meeting that the six board members present Sunday would launch the meeting with a short presentation outlining why they want take Pride off the Hill. Instead, the board distributed a two-page handout with 24 bullet points listing their reasons. Among them: A move to Seattle Center would more closely represent the LGBT community around the Puget Sound; the Space Needle is Seattle's most recognized landmark; and a march downtown would have a more significant impact on the non-Gay population.

The SPC has reserved the Seattle Center for a four day event, beginning on June 22 and ending on June 25. The facilities that are to be utilized include the Seattle Center House and its conference rooms, the Mural Amphitheater, Fisher Pavilion, the International Fountain lawn and several of the Center's open spaces, such as the Sculpture Park. The SPC has also received preliminary approval from the City of Seattle to move the parade route to downtown along Fourth Avenue.

At least 35 speakers presented their thoughts and feelings to the SPC board on Sunday. A large majority spoke of safety issues. "Seattle Center is not Gay friendly," said Robert Sondheim, owner of the Rosebud. "And around Pike Street and 4th and 3rd Avenues security is a major issue."

o Michelle: "I live at 3rd and Lenora near Virginia downtown...I've seen stabbings, shootings, assaults.... I had to come here today to say that I don't think the Seattle Pride Committee could handle what could happen there. I'm talking from experience"

o Anna: "I moved from Belltown to Capitol Hill when I came out because I felt accepted up here, like I had a family."

o Shelly: "The Hill is a place where people of all races, sexes, religions and orientations can come and be accepted."

o Angela: "It's after the parade that I'm worried about - if there's a beer garden and two guys get drunk and go on a walk around Seattle Center they will be at great risk. No beer garden...bad idea."

o Linda: "I've lived downtown for 27 years and it's not as safe as you might think. Don't be an innocent about going downtown."

o Peter (manager of the Broadway Grille): "This isn't just a financial issue for us. The march must be kept in a safe and supportive environment."

o Eric: "Safety is an issue. And I don't know how meaningful it will be marching down an empty 4th Avenue on a Sunday afternoon."

o Jeff: "[When] young people from smaller towns think of going to the Gay area, they don't think about going to the Seattle Center; they think about going up to the Hill. I think that it is really important that it stays here. I don't know if youth...from outlying areas...would be as eager to go to a place where they would be outed; where people would see them on the streets; and where there isn't discretion used."

Several women who marched in the Dyke March this year - which for the first time went from the Hill to Westlake Mall - talked about the uncomfortable stares they endured from onlookers once the march left the Hill.

o Sandra: "I saw the faces of those shoppers who were looking at us and I didn't like it."

o Laine: "The minute we got off the Hill you could feel it. I've lived on the Hill for 25 years...so for me this is an issue about heart...Capitol Hill is where the heart and soul of the Gay community is and where we should be."

Others spoke to the need for a definite, proud and unifying political statement in Seattle's Pride events:

o Lee: "We can't look fragmented right now, not when we're trying to win civil rights and marriage rights."

o John: "It's extremely important that we retain our turf and keep it a rainbow community. We are an inclusive community; they should come to our house.

o Eric: "This is our spot. We see enough heteros the rest of the year."

o Su: "Pride should be galvanizing event at a time when we're being attacked so heavily. I want to see the rally held in Volunteer Park, and that Bud Light banner removed from the stage and replaced with one that says, 'Pass the state Gay Rights Bill!'"

As of SGN presstime Thursday, no word had yet been received regarding when the Seattle Pride Committee will hold the second public forum Kershner and the SPC board promised at Sunday's meeting. Medeiros and others vowed to remain steadfast in their determination to win the debate and keep Pride on the Hill. "I think this whole process signifies a turning point where everybody has a say in the process&." Medieros said. "Perhaps [the SPC] has actually created a very important catalyst now where people realize that they just can't take Pride for granted."



PHOTO CAPTION

1. (L-R) Seattle Pride Committee Marketing Director Dale Kershner, SPC President Frank Leonzal and SPC March/Parade Director Tammy Zoch

2. (crowd shot that you can run in B&W on the jump page from color)

Audience listens to Seattle Pride Committee Marketing Director Dale Kershner
copyright Seattle Gay News - DigitalTeamWorks 2005